100th Anniversary of the sinking of the s.s. Otaki
Post date: Apr 29, 2017 11:51:15 AM
2017 marks the centenary of the sinking of the New Zealand Shipping Company vessel s.s. Otaki by the German surface raider SMS Moewe. The Otaki was a refrigerated cargo ship which in early 1917 was under the command of Captain Archibald Bisset Smith, sailing from the UK for Australia via the USA and the Panama Canal.
On 10 March, while on route from London to New York, the Otaki was attacked by the the German surface raider, the Moewe. Rather than attempting to flee, the Otaki turned to engage. Despite only being lightly armed, the Otaki managed to inflict serious damage on the enemy vessel before she was sunk. Captain Bisset Smith went down with his vessel and four other crew also lost their lives. The remainder who had been on board were taken prisoner.
For his role in this action Captain Bisset Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross (the award being made in 1919 following a posthumous commission as a temporary Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserve). The citation for the VC reads:
Captain Bisset Smith's Victoria Cross is part of the P&O Heritage Collection in London.
Captain Bisset Smith had been a pupil at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen and since 1937 that college has awarded the Otaki Shield and a travel scholarship to one pupil. The trip from the UK to New Zealand and back was originally provided by the New Zealand Shipping Company but with the introduction of containerisation on the ANZ route Overseas Containers Limited (OCL) took on that role. Many will remember how OCL (then P&O Containers and then P&O Nedlloyd) carried the Otaki Scholar out to New Zealand and back. From 2002 the tradition of the sea passage was broken with the recipient of the Otaki Shield award travelling by air.
Robert Gordon's College has produced a very interesting video covering the story of the s.s. Otaki, their illustrious former student Captain Bisset Smith and the history of the Otaki Shield award.
Aberdeen City Council have released a video showing how that city has marked the 100th anniversary. Again, well worth a watch.
To commemorate the centenary the shipping magazine Seabreezes has published an excellent article which is well worth a read. A section of that article can be accessed via the link below:
PONL Heritage would like to thank Ken Allwyn and SCARA for the suggested news item.